Wednesday, 27 August 2014

What Does a Tin Whistle Have in Common With a Bread-maker?

Originally, the title of this post was intended to be ironic. The answer was going to be "Nothing, except for the fact that I found my tin whistle under my bread-maker this afternoon." However, the more the idea was considered, the more similar bread-makers and tin whistles began to appear. Both tin whistles and bread-makers can be easily forgotten about; they have the potential to make life easier when used; once you learn the basics of how to use them, you will be able to produce an endless amount of variations; both can be purchased for very little money, and are the type of items to be found at garage sales where often you can find them still in their packages; people are always surprised by what they can produce and happy to find someone who actually uses them. There are probably other comparisons, but for now this list will suffice. My intention was not to sing the praises of bread-makers but of the tin whistle; this most humble of instruments that has brought the gift of music to countless people around the world.

I've had three memorable introductions to the Irish tin whistle. The first occurred many years ago when a young catechism student of mine brought out his tin whistle at the end of class and asked if he could perform a tune. He knocked our socks off. This little kid had an incredible command of the instrument and had only been playing it a short while.   He no doubt had a natural gift for music and reverence for the instrument. The fact that both of his parents were from Ireland may have meant that he was taught to appreciate its music from the cradle and I'm glad that he helped pass that appreciation on to me. His music gave me great respect for both the instrument and the people who play it.

My second introduction to the tin whistle came when I discovered the online tutorials offered by the Jesuit Ryan G. Duns. Duns taught a course called the Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle as part of the Irish Studies Department at Fordam University. I can't remember exactly how I stumbled upon these videos, but do remember it was shortly before leaving for Nova Scotia in 2010. Duns' simple videos somehow captured my imagination and the spirit of why I was moving to Nova Scotia in the first place. I was seeking a gentler way of living and wanted to nurture a life where there was still time for things like music, writing and simple pleasures that are often forgotten in our high tech world. The penny whistle traveled with me to Nova Scotia and back home to Vancouver a year later. Although I did not play the whistle much while in Nova Scotia, Ryan Duns' other lessons were never far from my mind. In one of the videos he said something akin to 'find your own voice'. I could not find the precise reference to quote him directly; these may not have been his exact words, but this was the lesson I took from the videos. In Nova Scotia I believe I did find my own voice, and much of what is posted in this blog comes from that voice. It is easier to understand the necessity to find our own voice when encountering people like Duns who are using theirs in unique ways. Through his voice he is passing on not only the tradition of the tin whistle, but many other worthwhile traditions which have been forgotten or are perhaps being heard for the first time by many.

A sample the Duns' tin whistle tutorials can be found here. I would encourage you visit his other videos if you want to learn this instrument, or if you are curious about the other things you may learn from his clips.

The third encounter with the tin whistle was today when I took a break from writing to tackle some other chores. As the sad thought of summer slipping away started to develop, it was quickly replaced by the thought of making bread in the fall. That led to organizing the counter on which the bread-maker sits, which very happily led to the rediscovery of the tin whistle. My Clarke's Original tinwhistle  was nestled underneath the appliance that hasn't been used all summer. I'm not sure when I last attempted to play the tin whistle, but likely it was some time around the last time I made bread in the bread-maker. I was not consciously looking for the whistle, but subconsciously it was precisely the thing my heart was set on finding. Its appearance not only brought back a flood of happy memories, it solved three problems which were beginning to cause me some frustration.

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